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The Sedition Act Of 1798

David Zheng By David Zheng on
Badge: Author | Level: 2 | Politics & History Expertise:

The infamous Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 was a compilation of four laws that were passed by the Federalist government in 1798. They were written and passed to ensure the security and stability of the United States of America in times of war, namely the naval battle between the U.S. and France. Of the four bills, The Sedition Act was by far the most controversial and resented. In general, sedition means inciting others to resist or rebel against lawful authority. The U.S. Sedition Act first outlawed conspiracies and made it illegal for any person to express "any false, scandalous and malicious writing" against Congress or the president. One can see that this act written by Federalists was specifically bias, for it did not protect the vice president who, of course, was Jefferson. Vice President Thomas Jefferson was outraged that such an “unconstitutional” law had been passed. The Jeffersonians openly denounced the acts and claimed that the Sedition Acts violated both the 1st and the 10th amendment of the Bill of Rights. The Act completely nullified the first amendment’s freedom of speech and the press by severely limiting the common citizen’s ability to hold civil discussions within the context of government. The tenth amendment stated that the powers not delegated to the United States government by the Constitution, not prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people which therefore makes the act invalid. The federal government did not have the right to stifle political opposition and mute their critics, nor did it have the power to impose a set of laws that the separate independent states were required to abide by as according to the 1st and 10th amendment of the Constitution.

Upon vigilant examination of the Constitution and the rights that it promises, one could easily see that the Jeffersonian argument stands strong. The Bill of Rights was established by the founding fathers solely to prevent the United States government from becoming the tyrannical monarchy that they had sought to avoid and escape. What folly would it be that a mere 30 years after the foundation of the country was signed, that the first step would be made toward the very essence that the colonists had sailed 3, 000 miles from? The Federalists aimed to create a stable and secure country, safe for business and wealthy men of property. From a political perspective the Sedition Act was a very tactical law to employ. Not only did it limit public opinion and rebellion towards the government, but it also allowed the country to prosper for a short amount of time without open Federalist-Republican conflicts. Though the act expired in 1801 it would have been a huge risk if it last for an extended time because eventually the freedom loving Americans would rise against Congress, only to repeat history. Federalists believed the Sedition Act was a good opportunity to silence the criticism of the Republican Party, and the silencing of intellectual opposition is one of the first steps to an all-powerful tyrannical government. This argument resonates a quote by a man named Mather Byles who once said: “Why would I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants less than one mile away?”